Skip Navigation

Change is Hard

Let’s start from a place of empathy for the people in your unit: change is hard. There is something comforting about things staying the same: steadiness often makes for reliability. Perhaps even for you as you read this you feel reluctant to start the process. This could come from all sort of difference places, so let’s look at ten main reasons for resisting change:

Loss of Control - fearing that the proposed change will cause them to lose influence or authority. This might be valid or invalid, but the fear is real.

Excess Uncertainty - simply not knowing what will happen. People have varying levels of comfort with uncertainty, and just because you’re okay with the amount of unknowns doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Surprise, Surprise! - feeling sprung upon, without enough notice or time to adjust. Some people on your team or in your unit will need to ‘warm up’ to an idea before they’re ready to accept it.

The “Difference Effect” - enjoying the habitual, familiar order of things. These may be the same people that want to hold on to the (now) new order of things when the next changes come!

Loss of Face - inferring that the need to change means that the former way was wrong. It may be the case that some of what your unit currently does is flawed; if these people were involved in creating or implementing the former then that can trigger this understandable reaction.

Concerns about Future Competence - Can I do it? Will it work for me? Essentially this is fear of (personal) failure, and we can all relate to that!

Ripple Effects - worrying that the proposed changes will disrupt other activities, projects, or goals, that the negative effects in other areas outweigh the possible benefits.

More Work - simply put, this is the understandable lack of desire to take on more work, give more time, or invest additional effort.

Past Resentments - doubting that the new vision or plan will work (or is worth it) based on their experience with similar undertakings in the past. This historical memory can be really powerful.

Sometimes the Threat is Real - change will mean the loss of some things (or ways, or values, etc.) to make room for others, and sometimes this produces very real ‘winners’ (people who will clearly benefit) and ‘losers’ (people who won’t).

Copyright © 2021  Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA 02163

Based on where the resistance is coming from you’ll want to respond differently. For instance, if you determine that someone is resisting because of Loss of Control, you might determine that what this person (or group) really needs is assurance that they will still have value / importance when the plan is implemented. That may point you toward how best to interact with them.

Resistance to Change: Download the 10 Reasons Worksheet